Quick Reference

1 According to the Ṛg Veda, a great sacred river in the region of the Punjab, which subsequently dried up, disappearing, it is said, into the sands of the Rajasthani desert. There have been modern attempts to chart its original course through satellite photography, and it is now frequently suggested that, as probably the major waterway of the Indus Valley civilization, it may have dried up or changed course around 2000 bce. It has therefore become central to some of the arguments about the dating of the Ṛg Veda and the origins of Āryan culture. Whatever its historical role, as one of the subcontinent's seven sacred rivers, the Sarasvatī has long been believed to flow underground from the Himālayas to Prayāga, where it resurfaces (invisibly, except to yogins) to become confluent with the rivers Gaṅgā and Yamunā.

2 Appearing in the Ṛg Veda as the personification of the river (1), Sarasvatī is subsequently revered as the goddess of speech (vāc, or vāgdevī), poetry, music, and learning, and as the consort of Brahmā (whose haṃsa vāhana she shares). She has a particular association with the medium of traditional learning, Sanskrit, and therefore also with the Veda. (She is said to have been the inventor of the language, and of devanāgarī, one of the scripts in which it is written.) Iconographically, she is usually depicted as a fair young woman with four arms, holding or playing a vīṇā (lute); other insignia include a water pot, the Vedas in manuscript form, and a mālā. She may also hold, or be seated on, a lotus. In northern India, her annual festival is held during the spring festivities; in the South, it may be part of the autumnal Navarātrī festival. Although popular, and worshipped independently (particularly by students, teachers, and artists), Sarasvatī is ultimately taken to be a form of the great Goddess. She is also popular amongst the Buddhists and, in particular, the Jains.

Subjects: Hinduism.

Reference entries